Right now, most document management solutions work under the idea of many people making separate edits, locking the document to prevent edits stepping on one another. But what if you could all edit a document at the same time like you can in Google Docs and similar tools? That, in some ways, is the promise of Google Wave (news, site).

Document Collaboration, Real Time

Google Wave integrates services such as Gmail, Google Docs, Google IM and more into a single tool. Creating a Wave enables you to collaborate with your peers on documents in real time, watching them type and edit and allowing you to step in and make your own changes.

Rather than being limited to plain text, you have basic document formatting options such as headings (H1, H2, etc), alignment, font styles, highlighting and more. You can even click the Playback button to watch the entire discussion (called a wave) evolve step by step.

Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen?

Collaborating in a wave is a little daunting, especially if one person tends to think fast and write faster. One would also question the ability to automatically overwrite someone else's work. Some social etiquette is useful here or people can go overboard not letting one person finish their changes before stomping on what the first person was doing.

And what if you don't agree with the changes? Can you reject them? Back them out? If someone doesn't own the document and have ultimate say, things could get ugly. Fast.

In a nod to the fact that collaboration isn't always the best way to produce content, Google itself sends read-only waves from the system when you first get your Wave account. For the moment, users can't create read-only waves, but Google states that it looks forward to offering this feature in the future.

A Wave in Progress

The service is still heavily in development. Just working simultaneously with one other person is a bit slow, and can cause the browser to complain about potential runaway scripts when someone is editing.

Occasionally getting a message at the top of your browser window saying that everything is "shiny" (for you Browncoats out there) "but you'll need to Refresh" was a bit unnerving, but at least nothing was lost in the process.

For this technology to scale and be truly useful in the content management space it needs to be more efficient and more robust. Imagine many people editing a wiki page simultaneously with no appreciable lag and no browser death and you'll get the picture of where the future might take us.

Not that this picture is all sunshine and flowers. It sounds like chaos too. Especially when someone comes behind you editing as you type.

Learning Opportunities

Best for Small, Collaborative Teams

Ultimately a technology like Google Wave is probably best for specialized situations where smaller-time collaboration is key, just as smaller groups in the physical world often can get more done, faster, simultaneously than larger ones.

Considering the lack of workflow and versioning capabilities, document collaboration inside a wave is definitely not for larger enterprises who have clearly defined rules for the creation and publishing of content on intranet and internet websites.

Of course, maybe that's not the point of Google Wave. It's much more about the collaboration than the content management. A similar feature in a CMS might be available for those who want to use it in the document creation or editing phase, but otherwise not be a large factor in the overall management of that content.

Which makes sense. CMS's offer editors but these editors are a small subset of even a simple CMS's overall functionality.

What do You Think?

Have you tried Google Wave? Is it worth all of the gushing and fuss? This article was written and edited in Google Wave simultaneously by Dee-Ann LeBlanc and Barb Mosher.

Writing and editing together allowed each participant to watch each other's thought process, step in when the other got stuck, polish one section as the other wrote new text, and get an article down without needing to discuss what we were doing ahead of time.

In fact, the very act of creating the document became the conversation. Maybe that's the real power of a technology like Google Wave.